The olive – a symbol of peace – and the tree which produces olives (olea europaea) has probably been cultivated around the Mediterranean basin since the 8th millennium BC. Its origin could be the eastern Mediterranean, but most probably it originated in Greece. Stone tablets found dating back to 2500 BC from the court of King Minos of Crete make reference to this plant.

Archaeological evidence shows that olives were turned into olive oil by 6000 BC and 4500 BC in Israel.

Besides food, olive oil has been used for religious rituals, medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application. The Minoans used olive oil in religious ceremonies. The oil became a principal product of the Minoan civilization, where it is thought to have represented wealth. Olive oil was also a multi-purpose product of Mycenaean Greece (c. 1600–1100 BC) and was a chief export at that time. Olive trees were planted throughout the entire Mediterranean basin during the evolution of the Roman Republic and Empire. According to historians the best olive oil has always originated from the eastern Mediterranean.

Early recognized as superior to vegetable or animal fats, olive oil comes from the Greek word elaion as a marker of improved Greek varieties of oil-producing olive since antiquity.